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Sa dukin pelena un, dan ithin nagitiyaw - EDITORIAL

30 April 2016 12:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


As politicians, trade union leaders and the workers prepare to mark what many see as Sri Lanka’s most party-politicised May Day in recent decades, it would be good to remember so that we could hopefully revive what May Day is really meant to be. 

Labour Day or May Day is a celebration of labourers and the working classes.  It is promoted by the international labour movement, socialists, and communists though real socialism or communism which means a community life appears to be merely a word today or at best State capitalism. The date was chosen for International Workers’ Day by the Second International, a pan-national organization of socialist and communist political parties, to commemorate the Haymarket affair which occurred in Chicago on  May 4, 1886. The 1904 International Socialist Conference in Amsterdam, the Sixth Conference of the Second International, called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the May 1 for laws to ensure a 8-hour working day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace. 

Some 130 years after the Chicago attack, the world has realized today that without practical steps to alleviate poverty through a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources, there cannot and will not be international or national peace. May Day has been an important official holiday in countries such as the former Soviet Union and now Russia, China, which has emerged as one of the world’s economic super powers, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba, where the main event has been a military show of strength. 

Despite at least 130 years of demonstrations and agitation for workers’ rights, the latest figures released by the Social justice movement OXFAM revealed that 62 of the world’s biggest multi-billionaires own more wealth and resources than half the world’s population of some 3,500 million. 
April 28 was the World Day for safety and health at work. The theme was “Workplace Stress: a collective challenge.” The United Nations in a statement says many workers are facing greater pressure to meet the demands of modern working life. Psychosocial risks such as increased competition, higher expectations on performance and longer working hours are contributing to the workplace becoming an ever more stressful environment. Work-related stress is now generally acknowledged as a global issue affecting all countries, all professions and all workers both in developed and developing countries, the UN says. April 28 has also long been associated with the world’s trade union movement’s commemoration of the victims of occupational accidents and diseases. The latest figures are shocking. Every year some two million men and women lose their lives through accidents and diseases linked to their work. In addition, there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year, incurring US$ 2.8 trillion in costs for lost working time and expenses for treatment, compensation and rehabilitation, the Daily Mirror revealed in its editorial.  

Sri Lanka celebrated its first May Day in 1927 under the leadership of A.E Goonesinha, and a formal event will be held near his statue tomorrow as well, though his dreams, vision and goals for the working class were sacrificed even by socialist or communist leaders when they were in power. A.E. Goonesinha was considered by many as a pioneering trade union leader and was often referred to as the Father of the Labour Movement. Mr. Goonesinha was the founder of the Ceylon Labour Party in 1931. It was the country’s first official leftist party. It was under Mr. Goonesinha that Sri Lanka founded its first ever trade union, the Ceylon Labour Union in 1922. Fittingly under Mr. Goonesinha’s patronage, Sri Lanka held its first ever May Day Rally in 1933. During this event men wore a white sarong and a red striped banian, while women workers were dressed in red coloured sarees and jackets. Drummers and dancers accompanied the procession, while Mr. Goonesinha led from the front under a red banner. There were no political slogans displayed or shouted-out. Instead the workers sang working class songs while marching to Galle Face Green. 

So on May Day 2016, as political parties vie for power, we would like to remind them of the hallowed workers’ song which is meaningful even today; “Sa dukin pelena un, dan ithin nagitiyaw, anthima satanata sarasiyaw”.

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